Poster

Donald's Better Self

A Donald Duck Cartoon

Release Date : March 11, 1938

Running Time : 8:25

Synopsis

Donald's good side gets him out out bed and ready for school, while his bad side tempts him to go off fishing.

Characters

Donald Duck
Donald's Angel
Donald's Devil

Credits

Director
Jack King
Animation
Don Towsley
Paul Allen
Berny Wolf
Jack Hannah
Charles Couch
Layout
Jim Carmichael
Charles Payzant
Story
Tom Armstrong
Harry Reeves
Carl Barks
Music
Oliver Wallace

Video

United States
The Importance of Being Donald
France
Donald Vedette de Television
Italy
La Storia de Paperino

Laserdiscs

United States
Mickey Knows Best / The Importance of Being Donald
Japan
This is Your Life Donald Duck

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : Wave 3 : The Chronological Donald Volume 1
Germany
Disney Treasures : Wave 3 : The Chronological Donald Volume 1
Italy
Disney Treasures : Wave 3 : The Chronological Donald Volume 1
Sweden
Disney Treasures : Wave 3 : The Chronological Donald Volume 1
United Kingdom
Disney Treasures : Wave 3 : The Chronological Donald Volume 1

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 14: Early Donald
Mickey's Mouse Tracks: Episode 71

Technical Specification

Color Type: Technicolor
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.

Comments

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : I’ve mentioned here before that Goofy is my favorite of the Fab Five Disney characters, because of the work he does in later shorts where he’s learning sports or other tasks. The more I see of Donald, though, the more he goes up in my estimation. Again, as I’ve said before, Donald is a reflection of most of us in our lives, and that’s readily apparent in Donald’s Better Self.

This is a deeply psychological cartoon. Sure, it uses a tried and true gag, having Donald split into an angel and a devil, but it’s interesting to see the differences in what each has him do, and how Donald reacts to them. Someone who’s a better amateur psychologist than me could divine the instances of id, ego and superego in this short, but I know enough to know that they are there.

The opening gag features Donald’s alarm going off, then the angel inside him pops up, ready for the day. If you can’t relate to this, you haven’t had to go to work or school. Everyone has that person inside them who wants to go back to sleep, but it’s the angel that gets us up. True to form, Donald’s devil shows up and tries to keep him in bed. It’s an immediately relatable gag that kicks this short off with a bang.

It’s in the next section that things get much more interesting. While the angel gets Donald up and moving, the devil bides its time. Popping out of a mailbox on the way to school, the devil convinces Donald to head to the fishing hole and play hooky. While they’re there, the devil gets Donald to smoke a pipe.

This is the part that is so intriguing to me, because Donald has an extreme averse reaction to the pipe and smoking. It’s not like Walt Disney, an avid smoker, was one to rail against the evils of tobacco. Perhaps for children, but where is Donald in this short? The angel is dragging him to school, so he is a kid, I guess, but later on we will meet his nephews, and if he’s driving and wooing Daisy, I’d see him as an adult. So, why, exactly, was the anti-smoking message in here?

It’s also good to note that Donald’s angel and devil have clear, well spoken voices. There’s something more to that than just the opportunity to give Donald a clear voice. It’s psychological as well, as if Donald hears himself just fine, and doesn’t worry about the nearly unintelligible squawking he usually makes.

As you’d imagine, everything turns out fine, and Donald is steered to school. But this is probably a very important cartoon in the Donald mythos. I say probably, because it would take someone much more skilled in animation critique and psychology to break it down. The animation style in this is a little more simplistic than in previous shorts, which was an adjustment visually. Does that relate to the psychology? I’m not sure, but it does make Donald’s Better Self a very intriguing short to watch.


From Mac : "Aw, you smoke like a baby!"

An enjoyable short, but an odd one. As you say, Donald is portrayed as a child in this one. He's attends school and he's not supposed to smoke (now we're used to anti-smoking messages aimed at all ages, but in the context of the 30's America the message is definitely children shouldn't smoke). That's the other odd thing about this short – it's preachy. Disney cartoons have had morals before, but this is much more preachy than the others. Now children, go to school and never smoke! Wak! I'm 'sposed to be watching a cartoon!

Thankfully the good humor in this cartoon and Donald's personality prevent the preachiness from becoming over bearing. Sure Donald is inexplicably a kid, but he's one who draws on the walls, steals road signs and plays with guns and axes. Then, when he's apparently learned his lesson about playing truant, he still tries to sneak right past the school!

Still this cartoon would have made more sense and could have been even better if it either showed Donald trying to avoid temptation in a situation more appropriate to an adult (really bringing out his inner turmoil as he struggles with his conscience) or if he were cast in the kids role of a cartoon that was an all out lampoon of preachy children's stories (this could have been hilarious).


From 411314 : From your description, this cartoon somewhat reminds me of Pinocchio (hero's conscience tells him to go to school while someone tempts him to do otherwise). Pinocchio also has the hero tempted to smoke and also portrays this as a bad thing. Lampwick even tells Pinocchio "you smoke like my grandmother", rather like the quote in the comment above about "you smoke like a baby". Maybe Disney didn't think he should smoke but was too addicted to stop?
From Ryan Wilson : This short was okay. It makes you just think of how awful it is getting up in the morning to go to school, work, etc. I know I hated to get up in the morning back when I was going to school.
From Jerry Edwards : For me, the short is too busy trying to get its moral across that it forgets to entertain - all the preaching gets old fast for me.
From Ryan : Although there was a big moral in this story, which was "stay in school," I liked it. It was so realistic because who the heck wants to get up early in the morning to go to school. I have to be at school by 8:00 A.M.(only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and God is that awful? Also, quite a bit of the animation in this short was reused in the propaganda film, Donald's Decision.
From Candy : I noticed that the other people commenting on this cartoon mentioned that it was too preachy. Well, I guess it is. But I always liked it because of the Angel-vs.-Devil theme. Most of the time, the personal angels and devils of cartoon characters were portrayed as small, sitting on the shoulder of the character. But they were big and life-size in this cartoon. It's interesting that Donald was depicted as a kid in this cartoon, not as an adult. Not too many years after this the roles would be reversed, and Donald would show up as a truant officer and would arrest his nephews for playing hooky. In Donald's Better Self, there is a scene where his personal Devil gets him to smoke a corncob pipe and he gets sick from it. This always reminded me of a scenario from a Tom Sawyer film. There was a similar scenario in Disney's Pinocchio. I liked the fight between Don's Angel and Devil. I've noticed that these Devil characters always have a gangster accent and that the Angel characters are always portrayed as effeminate; what would be called "sissy" back then. All of the personal Angels of the cartoon characters were portrayed this way. This Angel-vs.-Devil theme was also repeated in a great Pluto cartoon, Lend a Paw, and in a Figaro cartoon, Figaro and Frankie.
From Baruch Weiss : As Jerry Edwards has pointed out this short is too busy getting it's moral across. Nothing interesting for me.
From Jenny Tablina : I saw this short for the first time on "Chronological Donald" and wondered why I had never seen it before. Is this one of the cartoons Disney is less willing to show due to amount of smoking in it and so on or just maybe UK censorship? In any case I found it somewhat interesting as an early Donald short. I'm glad they made him adult again for his next solo cartoon though.

Referenced Comments